Friday, March 29, 2013

good friday.

this morning, at 6am, we hopped in the car and headed to the airport. at 6 am on good friday, the streets are empty. here, almost nobody works today. it's a sacred day. the stores still close from 12-3 and it's hard to buy alcohol.

as we drove along, we saw groups of people walking. and as we arrived in la joya, in front of a prominent catholic church, the masses were beginning to congregate. today, beginning at 6am, catholics walk the via dolorosa, the stations of the cross, visiting 13 different churches throughout the city - reciting a station at each.

we made it to the airport, checked in my parents and i headed back. as i drove up the highway, i noticed a sea of umbrellas, led by a man with a stop sign. hundreds of people following the cross.

and as i made my way back through la joya i had to stop every few feet to avoid running into the ever growing crowd.


this celebration of good friday is incredible. masses of people remembering the sacrifice made for them - and the best part of it is that on sunday he will no longer be crucified, the tomb will be empty.

week in review.

my parents arrived on saturday night. we unpacked bags and quickly re-packed them. it's spring break everywhere except at the university. seriously. so samil and amely went to an all-inclusive resort with grandmom and grandpop for a few days - leaving me with work and meetings and a husband hell-bent on "fixing" the backyard.

on sunday we drove them to the resort, stopping in maimon - the best fried fish town in the republic. no lie. it was even better than in the past as the restaurant we usually go to now lets you choose the fish you want to fry up. my dad and i chose tilapia and amalio had a fried-parrot fish. the kids and my mom, who don't eat fish, ate some rice and fried batatas, white sweet potatoes. don't feel bad for them, i'm sure they're eating plenty of pizza and french fries at the beach. cost for the fresh-fish-fry, rice, beans, batatas and a beer? about 20 bucks. ah-may-zing.

on monday i made a quick trip to school to pay our staff, picked up some stuff and ran to a meeting for midwives for the dominican republic. we talked about some fundraising ideas and a little about our new pre-natal curriculum. i'm super excited about the new curriculum - and soon i'll be asking my blog readers and supporters for a little bit of help (keep an eye out for that!)

by the time i got to the university, i was in some intense pain. i've been putting off a dental visit for quite some time now - i lost the filling over a root canal i had done about a year ago. i've been popping ibuprofen like candy and smearing my gums with ambesol to keep the pain at bay until i had time to make it to the dentist (please don't judge me, i hate the dentist). i had an appointment for tuesday morning, but i got desperate and called an ex-student to see if she could take me. luckily, she was taking emergencies and could do it right after my classes. apparently the nerve was crazy inflamed, and no one could believe i had a) not developed an abscess the size of my head and b) that i was teaching with that pain. i was impressed by the quality of care in the university teaching clinic - and while i know some of it was because one of my "dentists" was an ex-student and the other a possible future student, i could see that the patients were treated with dignity and respect. they opened up the tooth and filled it up temporarily until i can get in to get a crown put on it. i don't have enough tooth left for anything else. all in all, the visit cost me six us dollars. SIX DOLLARS people!

on tuesday, i interviewed a few people for summer volunteer and school year internship positions. after messing with the skype and ultimately giving up and using the phone, i had some nice conversations with some pretty neat people. i also went with jewel to have lunch with angela, a super nice exchange student/missionary/awesome girl at one of my favorite lunch spots (naturalis te for you santiagueros). i'm teaching a writing class this semester and i absolutely adore my students. i knew that i would like teaching the class, but i didn't think that i'd come to really enjoy my students so much. we hiked across campus and sat by the chapel to discuss all of the deep issues of life (to tattoo a chinese symbol on my butt or not?)

wednesday was slow - and after a brief hostile exchange at the bus station, i headed to school to have a speed dating session with another class. too bad we called it dating and none of the guys wanted to choose other guys as their partners because "teacher, it's a date!"

thursday  i picked up the kids and then we hung out with my parents, took it easy and tried to maintain some semblance of order in the house. it didn't work.

today, friday, i've been cleaning up and trying to get my house in order - you know, just what i was supposed to be doing all week while the kids were  gone! it's been  rainy and gross and we're just going to take it easy all weekend.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

all the pregnant ladies...

big sister learning to swaddle.
after what seemed like a million complications, we were finally able to get a group of pregnant women together for another round of pregnancy classes! while the first group was easy to round up and only seemed to grow week-by-week, this group took f.o.r.e.v.e.r. to come together. the average age of the women was much younger and of the 8, only two were first time moms.

i am shocked and awed by the lack of basic anatomical and physiological knowledge. above and beyond all of the pregnancy myths and legends and the crazy dominican "do-not-do-during-pregnancy" list, the question that hurt my heart the most was, "what does my period have to do with my pregnancy?"

meditation and relaxation techniques
we've always talked to teenagers about protecting themselves - using condoms, birth control, abstaining. in fact, i've been known to bring in carry-ons full of condoms for amalio to have on hand at school. just recently two of his (male) students asked for condoms, because in "their line of work" they need them, but they often don't have money to buy any. they're strippers.

it's hard to teach teenagers, and even adults, how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy if there isn't a working knowledge of how things work. and with all of the crazy rumors surrounding birth control, it's even harder.

pretty pregnancies (and jewel)
the question caught me so off guard because in my north american mind, everybody had some sort of human anatomy class in middle school, maybe high school. we all learned that the woman has eggs and a man has sperm and the two can meet up and form a baby, right? apparently not. as i asked around the group a bit, i realized that even in this hyper-sexual culture, women didn't know what their own body parts looked like on the outside! one woman asked how americans use tampons, because wouldn't pee get stuck inside of her? (tampon use is not common in latin america)

the new curriculum that we're working on will have all of this worked in on the first day of class. information and knowledge are power. when we know about our bodies, we can protect and care for ourselves and our loved ones.

thank you all for sharing this journey!!!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

from the ashes.

on tuesday night, i didn't sleep well. amely was up numerous times, trying to crawl into our bed, get water from the refrigerator, "doing peepee." i was exhausted. and i gave up coffee for lent. it's not been pretty.

i was crabby and planning to just finish cleaning the office to avoid real interaction or sharing my bad mood with anyone else. as we pulled up to school, the kids engulfed the car - it's an awesome feeling, especially when jewel and i walk to school and the kids run up the street to hug and hold our hands. but that morning it was different.

"directora - did you know that a baby died last night." "melanie - did you hear about the fire?"

and little by little - pulling one piece of information from each child, and realizing that, yes, in fact, a child died last night in a fire that consumed three homes. three. and even though the fire station arrived in a timely fashion, it was just too late.

it's been weeks since it's rained. and houses made from wood, filled with wood and lined up next to other houses of wood is a disaster waiting to happen. like little tinderboxes just waiting for someone to make a little mistake.

i mentally prepared myself as best i could, and walked the two short blocks to the place - it smelled of smoke still, and as i got closer, i knew i probably wouldn't be able to handle it. the empty lots - were filled with people and a local news reporter stood in the ashes and reported on the tragedy.

there is no running water here. no way to get water onto a fire unless there happens to be some in the family tank. and the little tanker the fire fighters have might not be enough to do the job.

i asked what happens now. three families are homeless. an 11 month old baby is dead. there is nothing left save the box springs from the beds and a few cement columns that made a porch-fence. does the community help? and as i was met with blank stares i realized again that there is nothing material in this community to give. and that made me sad.

until one woman spoke out and said once the reconstruction starts, the men will come with their hammers and nails. and a little boy said and the women will drink coffee and laugh a lot.

this community will survive. it will console its neighbors, they will rebuild - one piece of wood at a time. because that's what they are - a community.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

guest bloggin' it up.

i've got way too much floating  around in my head today
so i'm thankful to not have to worry about the blog (ha!)

check out my guest post at about education in the dominican republic

Monday, March 18, 2013

hell no, we won't go.

you may or may not remember that amalio ran for union president in santiago a few months ago. he didn't win. and while i'm thankful he didn't, it bothers me why he didn't. see, everything on the island is political. you get a job if you are blessed to know someone connected. you get government benefits like bonus-cards for gasoil or food or electricity if you happen to be distantly related to someone in city hall. while we are pretty connected (and no, that's not how we've gotten our jobs), amalio decided to go with a political party that had no chance of winning anyway. this party doesn't have enough pull to be important.
but the campaign was built on that idea. see, if you vote for the union that sympathizes (for lack of a better word... they're way more entrenched than sympathizers) with the political party that is in power, can you really trust the union leaders to question those in power?

in this country you can't. if you did, you'd lose your position. and your position is far more important than the position of thousands of people around you. and so now, the adp (teachers union) is in a sticky situation - they need to stand up to the government appointed officials from their own party. and risk their position.

strikes and protests in latin america often
consist of burning tires - this tire happened
today in a suburb of santiago as students
protested the state of education. (picture
for the past few years, there has been an intense campaign to have the government approve 4% of the GDP to education. when danilo medina took office in august, the battle for the 4% was ended and everyone foresaw great changes in education.

you see. a teacher in the public school system gets paid a base salary of 8,000 dominican pesos. roughly 200 US dollars. to boost up their pay, there are incentives: having a degree (bachelors, masters, etc...), years of service, evaluations, etc...
and even in this country, nobody can have a dignified life on 8,000 pesos. and to spout out rhetoric about the importance of education and pay teachers - educated and dedicated professionals - such a low pay is the equivalent of spitting in the faces of those same teachers. and when you top that low pay with the poor treatment and working conditions, you might as well just pull an r. kelly and pee on the teachers while they're down.

teachers in barahona gathered together in a town square
to decide whether or not to strike after the education
superintendent denied yet another contract request.
(photo credit: 
since january they have been in talks, trying to demand a 100% salary increase. and while i don't agree with their demands (because the economical effects on the country would be insane), i believe that teachers deserve a raise and a contract and proper representation and people who will fight for them. they also deserve decent classrooms, less than 60 (yes, 60) students in a class, materials as simple as chalk and as complicated as science labs.

but in order to have someone fight for them, they'll need to put their big-kid pants on and fight for themselves first. does that mean a strike? maybe. does it mean marching and protesting? probably. there is no change in the future if we don't stand up in the present.

this week, i've seen little sparks. people standing up and speaking out. teachers making decisions for themselves and not following the edicts sent down from on high. schools closed. students marching. and if there are enough sparks, maybe we'll see a change.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

watching them grow.

when we decided to move across the city a few years ago to be closer to amalio's job, i'll  be the first to admit that i wasn't happy with the situation. moving made my work-from-home job impossible, and for the past five years we had lived in the same neighborhood. it was nice. and comfortable.

and i don't really like to be taken too far out of my comfort zone.
(really. i don't).

but when we moved in, just a few blocks from the high school, the house was always busy in a way it hadn't been before. there was a neighborly feel that didn't exist in our prior apartment complex and because we were so close to school, students stopped by to say hello.

don't get me wrong. it got annoying a lot. who likes having a house full of teenaged boys when all you want to do is get some sleep? but it was nice to get to know the boys that society would otherwise have boxed in.

from left: me, samil, rovin, jonas, sandro (photobombed
by amely)
delinquents. druggies. trouble-makers.

yet these are the kids that show up when someone is sick. who stop by just to say hello.
they're not causing trouble. they're not doing drugs or stealing or painting graffiti on your house.

this past weekend was jonas' birthday. it's been an honor and privilege to watch this one grow-up from awkward kid to a caring young adult. to push back at the pressure that society has put upon him and refuse to conform. and rovinson who is more dedicated in his university studies than i ever would have imagined. these two have brought so many friends into our home, but they're the constants.

and i'm so excited to see where this crazy life takes them.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Volunteers, Interns, Teachers, Hooray!

in october 2011, we started school. we had just 25 students and two teachers, a kid to sit in the office and a doorman to make sure nobody stole our precious treasures. in october of 2011, i can tell you i had no idea we'd be where we are now - i thought we'd still be struggling along with 25 kids while the rest of the world passed us by.

here we are - march 2013 - with 90 students, 5 teachers, a cook a doorman and a plethora of visitors and volunteers. it's amazing that in this short amount of time we've been blessed with the funds and support we need to make this project a reality. to offer a quality education for a super low cost and a really needy neighborhood. i. am. in. love.

it's been a hard year - i've expressed that a ton on the blog - stressful, frustrating, i-want-to-punch-you-in-the-face kind of hard. but it's been so amazing as well - we're seeing kids learn and learning to love learning (ha!), we're seeing this little flower blossoms bloom into amazingly beautiful flowers. teachers are learning new techniques and being equipped for the future.

it's insane.

and it's time to start looking into the future. our teacher jewel made it here this year on sheer "god". we connected through this blog and after throwing out ideas of other ministries that might need her, she got tugged back to us and seriously, we are so blessed. i mean, who does that? futuro lleno de esperanza had no webpage, no facebook page, nothing to show for ourselves and she took the leap and (thankfully) landed on both feet and took off running.

so. about two weeks ago, i started putting together some job descriptions and investigating where to post our "job listings." i signed up for and and sent out the listing to several university intern and job boards.

it's so real. we're looking for some long term volunteers / interns. esl teachers, center coordinators, bilingual educators. we're also looking for special volunteers (art, dance, karate, gym, music teachers...) for shorter time commitments.
Interested in spending a few months in the Dominican Republic?
Here's your chance.
ESL, FLE Teachers, Bilingual Teachers, anyone interested in spending time with some super-cool kids.
Requirements: Associates Degree (or equivalent hours) or higher. Desire to live and serve in the Dominican Republic. Heart for children. Spanish, French or Haitian Creole competency (read: you can get by) for long term, non-ESL volunteers.
aren't they beautiful?
Responsibilities: Plan and implement grade-level appropriate classes (according to our school curriculum). Love the students! Some community-development involvement (extra-curricular classes, family visitation, special activity days). Average hours per week: 25
We do offer a small living stipend to our volunteers/interns, however we encourage all international staff to raise funds to offset cost of living. There is a shared-housing option for volunteers.

Please send all inquiries and resumes to

Sunday, March 3, 2013

let's go fly a kite...

it's that time of year in the dominican republic - beautiful, sunny, windy days.

perfect for flying a kite